Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cylinder Sound

The only energy a hand-powered cylinder mower uses is your own; and if you have an area of grass to cut that is not too extensive it would be madness to use anything that relies on unsustainable sources. We bought one for about £20 a few years ago but it was pretty cheaply made and, after using it to mow uneven allotment paths as well as in the garden, it started to fall apart.

Having learnt that you have to use them regularly and on fairly even grass, we upped our investment to the forty quid mark and went for one made by a well-known lawnmower manufacturer. By happy accident, when I was researching this particular model, I realised that a previous version of it, dating from as early as the 1930s, was the mower that my granddad used to let me ride precariously on the front of as a kid – this was before the invention of modern parental anxiety - as he pushed it up and down to create that bowling green effect in his back garden.

The current version is sturdy but light and provides an excellent opportunity for regular exercise; but the best thing about it is there is no more delightful sound on a summer’s day than the gentle whirr of a push-mower - much more pleasing than the insistent whine of electric or the deafening thrum of petrol.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

If You Go Down To The Woods Today...

It would be churlish in the extreme to complain about the hot summer weather that has finally arrived now the Gulf Stream has buggered off to where it belongs. Its perfect timing in coinciding with the start of the school holidays has meant that the fear of having a houseful of demob happy children, rained in with nowhere to go, has not been realised. But it is bloomin’ hot; and when 8 a.m. starts, a full paddling pool and plenty of ice cream are still not enough to keep the kids cool, there is only one place to go: the woods.

Sussex abounds with woodland and, in stifling heat at the height of summer, the dense canopy of trees never allows the air to warm up. Enter a forest and its benign earthiness will calm the most fevered brow. Even if sprogs and dogs insist on tearing about, nature will provide shade and still, cool air to stop them overheating.

According to the latest figures, 13% of Britain’s landscape is forest and woodland. After years of decline, this is the highest it has been since the 1930s and is despite the best efforts of the coalition government and their plans to privatise the public forests of England and Wales. This policy succeeded in uniting the forces of Conservatism – the Daily Telegraph and members of genteel charities such as the National Trust and the RSPB – with more traditionally radical campaigners like the Socialist Workers Party and the Ramblers. Its hasty scrapping last year was precipitated by how many Conservatives opposed this idiot idea; but the Tories in the government had every right to be caught out by the strength of feeling from its own supporters for there has long been a contradiction in Conservatism that did not prevent the erosion of the fabric of Britain last time they were in power.

The fundamental dichotomy at the heart of Conservatism – the free market and tradition – is something that has puzzled me for a long time. Slavery to the free market and deregulation means that the look of Britain has been transformed in the last thirty years: gone are the traditional liveries of our national and local public services and in their stead are the logos of a thousand faceless contractors. The free market idea that the cheapest price is best, with no regard for quality or aesthetics, delivers a world where the appearance of ‘phone boxes and buses is no longer consistent, the postman doesn’t deliver twice and water and electricity is supplied by the French (a situation, I would have thought, that fills your average Tory Europhobe with horror). If the consistency of public services has been lost, the opposite has occurred in private sector services.

Business is now dominated by a limited number of huge global concerns that have ensured the virtual end of the independent sector. This has changed the face of the High Street from the variety and range of retailers thirty years ago, to the proliferation of multiples such as McDonalds and Starbucks that we have today. In her book ‘Eating Air’, Pauline Melville notes that “all the things that people feared from communism: bland uniformity, cloned cities and omnipresent surveillance have been brought about by capitalism and nobody recognises it”. It was the policies of Thatcher, Major and Blair that sacrificed the service landscape of Britain in the name of competition but perhaps the prospect of being greeted by the words “This forest is managed by Capita and sponsored by Coca Cola” has finally woken Conservatives up to their duty to conserve.

Whether it is Ashdown Forest or Abbots Wood, Friston Forest or Darwell Wood, or any of the hundred smaller woods, there are plenty of dark, shady havens to choose from. There was a time when there was a lot more forest and woodland in Sussex. 1500 years ago, before clearance for agriculture and settlement, the huge wild wood forest of Anderida covered an area greater than what remains of it now, Ashdown Forest. This woodland is often cited as the reason that Sussex was the last county in England to convert to Christianity – it was cut off from the rest of England by its expanse and density. I like to think that this reluctance to give up Paganism was more down to the ‘we wunt be druv’ nature of the Sussex spirit, in existence even then; but if it’s not, shame there were not more trees.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hang On A Minute...

This coming weekend sees the start of the artist Richard Wilson’s ‘Hang On A Minute Lads, I’ve Got A Great Idea’ at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. Following Anthony Gormley’s ‘Critical Mass’ in 2010, there is now the chance to experience more rooftop art. This time, in homage to the conclusion of the 1969 film ‘The Italian Job’, you get to see a full sized-replica of a coach balanced precariously on the edge of the building’s roof. The title of the exhibition is the film’s final line, delivered as the camera zooms out to the panorama of the Italian Alps leaving the Mini-driving heisters balanced on the fulcrum of a dilemma against a pile of gold bullion. Wilson’s obsession with the film, and its iconic use of Mini Coopers, Michael Caine and football supporters abroad, has led to the work being commissioned as part of the British Cultural Olympiad; the exhibition runs until September and is free.

There is also an open invitation to Friday evening’s launch party, with music throughout the building from DJ Stephen Mallinder. When I saw that name I also thought “hang on a minute”; then it came to me: Stephen ‘Mal’ Mallinder, founder member of Sheffield Dada-inspired electronic industrialists, Caberet Voltaire. It also sent me scurrying to a box of 7” singles where I found their ‘Extended Play’ EP, their first release on Rough Trade from 1978. Including ‘Do the Mussolini (Headkick)’ and an esoteric cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Here She Comes Now’, this EP, together with another 7” in my box - the first Mute Records release from the same year, The Normal’s ‘TVOD/Warm Leatherette’ - signalled independent music’s move away from the rama lama of landfill punk. I’m sure Mallinder - now relocated to Brighton from Sheffield, via Australia - will be playing equally adventurous music on Friday; and it’s good to see that there is room for avant-garde musical experimentation in the British cultural landscape as well as your run of the mill coach hanging from the side of a building.